Prominent UK university to replace portraits of white scholars with ‘wall of diversity’

Prominent UK university to replace portraits of white scholars with ‘wall of diversity’
The Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience at King's College in London is replacing portraits of white scholars in the main entrance hall with a "wall of diversity." (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

One of the United Kingdom’s top universities plans to move portraits of its founding fathers and replace the empty space with a “wall of diversity,” according to a dean at the school.

The main entrance wall to the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience at King’s College in London is currently decorated with portraits of former faculty, primarily bearded white scholars. But the school is making plans to redecorate the walls to include more minority scholars amid concerns that the classroom environment is too “intimidating” for ethnic minorities, according to the Telegraph.

The Institute’s Dean of Education Professor Patrick Leman announced the plans, explaining that the halls shouldn’t be decorated with “busts of 1920s bearded men” but should include more modern, diverse scholars to make sure the Institute feels less “alienating.”

The former scholars whose busts are displayed at the Institute include Dr. Henry Maudsley, a psychiatrist whose generous donation made the school’s opening possible, and neurologist Sir Frederick Mott, who drew up the plans for the university’s courses for psychiatry training in 1896.

Leman complained that portraits on the main entrance walls are “almost entirely white middle-aged men” and will be replaced with a “wall of diversity.” According to Leman, the portraits will be removed from their current spots and many will be rehung in less prominent positions.

“[We are] making sure that the space in which students learn … doesn’t just have the busts of the bearded 1920s men, but also has pictures of people from different ethnic groups, different cultures. It’s not that we’re throwing anything into the bin,” Leman told the Telegraph.

Teaching materials will also be changed to reflect a more diverse student body, such as including a “range of ethnic groups” in diagrams of the human anatomy, not just the “standard white male.”

“We’re trying to reflect the diversity in terms of students we have, but also trying to be more inter-cultural, more international in terms of how we develop the science,” Leman said. “A great deal of medical, psychological research has been of white, male, North American or European students…so increasingly we try and broaden it to include more recent research from Asia, Africa, and from other parts of the world.”

King’s College Conservative Association President Sam Barrett sharply criticized the move, accusing the university of caving to unreasonable demands.

“It’s a de-colonization of the curriculum. Any sort of view that some students disagree with – if you shout loudly enough the university will react to it,” Barrett said. “Some [students] clearly have a problem with being taught by a white man — that’s the reality of it. If that person who knows their subject is white, why should that matter?”

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